Ten Trends that Will Shape the Church in 2018

Never in my lifetime have I seen local congregations at such a critical juncture. Cultural Christianity is all but dead. The “Nones,” those without any religious preference, are increasing. Many of the communities are no longer friendly to local churches; some have become adversarial.

But in the waves of these seas of negativity, are mercy drops of hope and possibilities. Look at these ten major trends carefully. See how God would have your church respond.

  1. The audio revolution. The e-book has not proved to be nearly as popular as we thought it would be. Many blog writers are reporting declines in readership. But audio books are rising in popularity. Listeners are moving to podcasts so they can learn while they jog, drive, and exercise. Outside of preaching podcasts, churches have many other opportunities to reach and disciple people through audio ministries.
  2. Boomer retirement crisis. Boomer pastors and church leaders are retiring in large numbers. But most of them don’t have succession plans. They are in churches from the small to the large. We will have many churches that are looking to fill these voids with little success.
  3. The deferred maintenance crisis in church facilities. My friend, Tim Cool of Cool Solutions Group, keeps reporting about churches that have done little to keep their church facilities in acceptable condition. For many of them, they are experiencing times of reckoning. A church with which I have familiarity had to close 4,000 square feet of space because it was deemed unsafe and uninhabitable. Like Tim says, you pay some now or you pay more later.
  4. Churches moving into retail spaces. The United States has a surplus of retail space, and that surplus will grow. The demise of many brick-and-mortar stores and chains presents an incredible opportunity for churches to find prime space for new and additional sites.
  5. Ongoing church closures. This trend shows no signs of slowing. I hope church leaders and members will be more receptive to acquisitions and mergers before its too late. Too many of these churches are expecting to be bailed out without lifting a finger.
  6. The rise of the neighborhood church. Churches that were once at the center of life in a neighborhood have declined and died. But we see them experiencing a renewal and revival both through acquisitions and re-plants.
  7. The learning revolution of the best church leaders. It is almost cliché to talk about the pace of change in our world and culture. I won’t bore you with the statistics and reality of change. But one thing is becoming glaringly obvious. Church leaders who are becoming ongoing learners are becoming the best leaders of these churches. Indeed, we created Church Answers to provide a learning platform for church leaders on a regular basis. Those church leaders who are not continually learning will not be leading well.
  8. Downsizing of worship centers/sanctuaries. This trend is one I have mentioned in recent months, but the pace of downsizing has accelerated. For certain, some of it is due to declining attendance, but that is not the only factor. A number of churches have intentionally moved to smaller worship services through multiple services, venues, and campuses.
  9. The rise of networks. More churches are aligning with both informal and formal networks with a common cause and common purpose. Those that are part of denominations typically choose to stay with their denominations for both doctrinal and legacy reasons. Acts 29 is an example of a church planting network more aligned with Reformed churches. Watch for new networks to form with different emphases and a broader evangelical doctrine.
  10. More Great Commission intentionality. When cultural Christianity was alive and well, churches could do minimal evangelistic activity and still grow by transfer growth. Such is not the case any more. Churches will have to be highly intentional evangelistically in the months ahead or they will head toward death and closure.

In future posts, I plan to offer solutions for churches for many of these issues.

Many congregations are at a tipping point. Some will die. Some will thrive. My prayer is that the summary of these trends can be used of God in your churches to move your congregation toward greater health and Great Commission obedience.

> Read more from Thom.


 

Download PDF

Tags: , ,

| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Vision >

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.